How to Have a Happy Healthy Holiday

December is an awful time for the holidays. Can’t we reschedule Christmas to a warmer month? Cold viruses, the flu, the stomach bug and all sorts of germy particles are swirling through the air like evil dancing snowflakes. There is so much to do, stress is at an all time high, sleep is at an all time low, and people keep tempting me with ornament cookies, take-out and red wine. The whole thing is a set up for disaster. My little kids are counting the days in number of sleeps; as in, “How many more sleeps until Christmas?” It is how they mark time. I am marking time in number of gifts bought and room left on my credit card. I simply do not have time to get sick, and am actively taking steps to avoid illness. I am also thinking about sleeps, because it helps me remember what I need to do to ensure a healthy holiday.


S — Sleep. Now, more than ever, it is crucial to get good, consistent sleep. Allow yourself time to unwind at the end of a night, put away the lists and the wrapping paper at least an hour before you go to bed and pick up a book, spend time with your family or just relax. This will quiet your mind to allow you to fall asleep more quickly. Have no caffeine after 12 noon, keep your room slightly cool and dark, invest in a good pillow and count your blessings rather than the number of shopping days left.

L — Laughter. Keep things in perspective. The holidays are meant to be a time for family, fun and reflection. Don’t let the little things make you crazy. An imperfect tree, a missed gift or a blown fuse can easily ruin a moment or even a day. Find the humor. I promise it is there.

E — Eat Well. Unfortunately now, when party schedules ramp up, sugar fairies are flying everywhere and you have little time to cook, it is more important than ever to focus on a healthy diet. Your immune system needs support and your body needs good energy to get through the season. Instead of depriving yourself of all the delicious holiday flavors, which is part of the joy of this time of year, just ensure you are getting lots of the good stuff each day. Increase your water intake, keep raw vegetables at the ready for a quick snack and eat at least three fruits a day. When you can, make healthier choices. Eat nuts instead of candy, drink decaf instead of caffeinated. Save your sugar fixes for homemade treats and avoid processed food. You will definitely feel better and you will boost your defenses against germs.

E — Exercise. I know it feels that you have no time, but try to find some. In the next few weeks, make your intention peace of mind. Don’t exercise for weight loss. Do it for sanity.  Just 15 minutes a day will make all the difference.

P — Prevention. Stop the spread of germs best you can. Encourage your family members to wash their hands frequently and to avoid putting  hands near the mouth. Keep nice smelling, festive hand soaps around your house. Hand washing, especially in the winter, can lead to dry skin. Dry, cracked skin is a poorer barrier to infection, so stock up on moisturizers as well.  Practice safe cooking practices, clean surfaces with antibacterial cleaning products, and change towels, facecloths and toothbrushes often.

S — Stress Reduction. Don’t laugh. You can do it. No matter how chaotic your schedule, you can still find time for yourself, for unscheduled fun and for just breathing … in and out. Sometimes a few minutes is all it takes. Acknowledge you limitations, you are not Martha Stewart. Get off Pinterest, Facebook and Instagram. Make your own holiday traditions and enjoy them without concerning yourself with what everyone else is doing. I know there is so much that needs to be done, but there is also so much we do that did not need to be done. Prioritize, making sure your health and the health of your family tops the list of priorities.

Focus on the S.L.E.E.P.S. until the end of the year and you will be healthier and happier this December!


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Protect Your Back this December

December 1st!! How did that happen? It feels like Thanksgiving was only a few days ago! I woke this morning exhausted with a lingering hangover from the holiday weekend a sore lower back. Yes, I was a key player in this year’s family football game (not), but I don’t remember hurting my back. I can only credit the soreness to anticipated Christmas stress. Did you get that? I’m not feeling stressed, yet my back is already channeling the strong possibility of stress. December is a bad time for your back. Here’s why:

- stress levels rise exponentially

- heavy lifting of shopping bags, packages and boxes

- reaching and twisting to hang lights/decorations

- sitting in uncomfortable positions for hours on end wrapping endless gifts

- dancing on bars or desks or tables after too many candy cane martinis

This season, be kind to your back. You’re going to need to be 100% healthy to get through the next few weeks.

- Stretch. Take 15 minutes each day to do some simple stretching. Yoga works great. Try the app Yoga Studio or Happy Baby Pose.

- Save the stilettos for special events and choose comfortable shoes with good support — especially when you are hitting the mall.

- Avoid carrying heavy bags on one side. Rather, try to balance the weight and carry equal amounts in each hand.

- Sleeping on your back puts a lot of pressure on your lower back. Try sleeping on your side, and if you must sleep on your back, put a pillow under your knees and another under your lower back. This will take a lot of pressure off.

- Be mindful. Lift with your knees, use a step stool or ladder to reach high places and change your position frequently both when sitting or standing. Don’t start any new intense exercise programs in an attempt to get a jump start on your new year resolutions.

- Finally, acknowledge the stressors in your life, like Santa, the elf on the shelf and in-laws. Very often, by simply admitting you are feeling stress, you can ward off its physical manifestations.

O.K. I am following my own advice. I admit it. I am already stressed and it is only December 1st. I feel better already — sort of.

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Ebola — What You Still Need to Know

Luckily, the panic has started to subside. The news stories are dwindling and Ebola isn’t mentally and emotionally terrorizing the masses in our country. My daughter says kids are no longer shouting “Ebola” every time someone coughs or sneezes — so, that’s good. You may still be left wondering though, what was that all about? Was I at risk? Am I at risk still? How did this get so bad in West Africa, and is there hope for the thousands of people who are suffering and dying as we move onto a different headline?

Amidst all the hysteria, I was given a great opportunity to work on a serious, yet realistic, eBook. It is based on fact, not rumor. Take a look. You’ll be better informed, you’ll learn about what the ongoing need is, and, how you can help.

Understanding Ebola: What the CDC Wants You to Know Now

You can purchase the book at the following retailers:


Barnes and Noble


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Why Amanda Bynes is No Laughing Matter

Amanda Bynes, the adorable little girl from “All That” and “The Amanda Show” is now, at only 28 years old, homeless. A few days ago, TMZ released a picture of this clearly troubled young woman sleeping on a couch at a mall in L.A. This, I suppose, is newsworthy to many. To me, this is tragic.


Bynes, who was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder, was recently released from a psychiatric facility. Despite the best efforts of her parents and friends to continue her treatment, she has been seen wandering the streets looking for a place to stay and tweeting accusations, largely thought to be untrue, about those who love her most. Many media outlets are covering the story, and the dark side of human nature makes us take a unkind interest when the mighty fall. Who after all in our society, is more mighty than those who achieve fame.


I implore you, rather than look at this as yet another Hollywood sideshow fueled by the misfortune of others, take it as an opportunity to get informed about bipolar disorder. Mental illness is very real, its treatment is often extremely difficult and we are almost all at risk. I often hear people throwing around the term “Bipolar” as if it were a personality characteristic like funny, mean or serious. It is a disease, and it needs to be respected as a disease. Imagine a celebrity, like Amanda Bynes, who has breast cancer. Now imagine, she is unwittingly caught on camera in an unflattering picture with a bald head exposed. Almost everyone with a conscious would find the publication of the photo distasteful.


Why is mental illness viewed so differently than diseases affecting other organ systems? In response to my children’s questions when they see someone who looks or acts differently, I explain it to them in the simplest of terms. When someone’s heart is sick, his or her brain works fine. It helps the person manage her illness, seek treatment and take her medicine. When someone’s brain is sick, the sickness itself often prevents her from acknowledging her disease and taking the appropriate steps to control it. The brain gets sick just like the liver, the kidneys or the heart. The world is just much less sympathetic to a sick brain. If mental illness was more widely understood, a photo of Amanda Bynes sleeping on a couch would be no more entertaining than a picture of an actor with asthma having an attack.

What you should know about Bipolar Disorder:


- Bipolar is NOT another way to describe someone who is simply emotional. It is a psychiatric disorder characterized by extremes of moods. Patients go through periods of intense happiness with increased energy and other periods of depression and fatigue. In between, people with bipolar disorder can feel normal.

- Bipolar disorder used to be known as manic depression. Symptoms of the manic phase are feelings of extreme hopefulness, excited speech, impulsivity and high sex drive. Symptoms of the depressive phase are irritability, sadness, thoughts of suicide, insomnia, fatigue and changes in appetite.

- Men and women are equally likely to be diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Women spend more time in the depressive phase and often cycle through the extremes more quickly. The first episode in men tends to be a manic episode. The first episode in women is usually a depressive episode.

- The average age of diagnosis is in the early 20s.

- People with a first degree relative with bipolar disorder or other psychiatric disorders are at greater risk of having bipolar, but a direct genetic link has not been found.

Bipolar disorder affects about 2 million people in the U.S. To learn more, please visit If you suspect psychiatric illness in yourself or a loved one, seek help immediately. If you were having chest pain, you would not wait. Illnesses of the mind are no less serious and they are, despite the tone expressed in the TMZ photo, no

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Drink Hot Chocolate, Remember More??

Well … kind of, but not really. I wish it were that easy, but I’m still pretty jazzed about this new study out of Columbia.

Warning: This is a small study and the theory needs to be tested on a larger population, but if you are like me, and feel you are slowly losing your memory — along with your mind most days — this should give you hope.

Aside from more serious conditions like Alzheimer’s and dementia, almost all adults start to suffer from degree of memory loss as they age. The degeneration is linked to a specific part of the brain called the dentate gyrus in the hippocampus.

memory loss, cocoa

Credit: Lab of Scott M. Small

It was hypothesized flavanols could improve the function of the dentate gyrus. Flavanols are found in the cocoa bean, chocolate, some teas, vegetables and fruit — grapes, blueberries, apples. Half the study group, which ranged in age from 50-69, drank a special beverage with a high concentration of flavanol extracted directly from the raw cocoa bean plant each day. The other half were given a regular chocolate drink. At the end of 3 months, both imaging studies of the brain and memory tests showed an improvement in the memory function of the group which drank the flavanol drink.

cocoa beansFlavanols are also thought to be beneficial for cardiovascular health. With all the extra chocolate in your house with Halloween on the way, you may be thinking you have a great excuse to gorge yourself on Hershey’s products. Unfortunately, the amount of flavanol found in processed chocolate won’t do you much good. This may be a blessing because you will probably want to forget how many you ate anyway.

The good news is there may be a nutritional supplement coming down the pipeline to make memory loss due to aging not so inevitable. It likely won’t be soon enough to help me remember what everyone wants for Christmas, but it may someday help me remember my grandchildren’s names. That would be nice, because at my current rate of memory loss, I’ll be lucky if I can remember the last time I showered.

If you want to test your memory, see if you can remember the parts of the brain mentioned in this post. I had my 15 year med school reunion last weekend and one of my Neuroanatomy professors was there. She is a lovely woman, but just thinking about that class gave me chills. If you did remember, you are one step ahead of the game. Speaking of games, mind games, reading, engaging your brain, eating well and staying active are all great ways to fight memory loss. Hot chocolate would be so much simpler, right?

hot chocolate

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Commercial Shows How We Keep Our Daughters Down

When my girls complain they “hate science,” it actually makes me cringe. Somehow, somewhere, science became a guy thing, and girls were directed to daintier pursuits, like typing, dieting and cupcake baking. Maybe it is all those big, bad chemicals with hard to decipher two letter codes, or those dangerous bunsen burners, or the smell of formaldehyde while a dissection is splayed open, or the possibility of getting dirty, but whatever it is, girls shy away from some of the most interesting, useful, diverse and rewarding careers, because they “hate science.” That’s like saying, “I hate food,” by the way. There are so many different branches of science, I’d argue it is impossible to hate them all.

I just came across this Verizon commercial, and I must share. What messages are we sending our girls from their first steps? Do we encourage them to explore, create and question or are we too busy telling them how beautiful they are? Take a look, and the next time you tell your daughter, “You are pretty,” add “amazing” to the end of that sentence.


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Turns Out: Rapid Weight Loss Maybe Ain’t So Bad

A study published in The Lancet last week states,
Weight Loss: slow and steady does not win the race.”

I hate when I’m wrong! I’ve always agreed with the common thinking that if you lose weight slowly, you will be less likely to put the weight back on. When it comes to college reunions, important work events and weddings, I said, “Go for it. Starve yourself, slim down, look great, but know you are probably going to put the weight back on.”  This new study, out of Australia, looked at people who lost weight in just 12 weeks and compared them with people who lost the same percentage of body weight in 36 weeks. After 3 years, both groups gained about 70% of the weight back. To further disprove the theory shedding pounds fast is bad, 80% of those in the rapid weight loss category reached their target weight, while only 50% of those trying to lose weight more gradually, met their goal.

What does this tell us?

First, it is only one study, so don’t go on a starvation diet just yet.

Second, it is extremely difficult to keep weight off, no matter how long it takes you to lose it, so focusing on healthier nutrition and exercise habits is better than focusing on the numbers on the scale.

Third, there is no quick and easy answer to weight loss. Move more, eat less.

Fourth, similar to an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, not letting your weight get out of hand in the first place will help you avoid the roller coaster diet ride. My grandmother, who died this year at 97 years old, gave me great advice. “Eat well, but don’t make yourself crazy. Pay attention to your body and as soon as you feel like your clothes are getting a little tight, spend a week or two eating less and exercising more. It is easier to lose five pounds than ten.”

Fifth, for me, this study underscores the importance of teaching our kids good eating habits from the get go. Instilling in them a healthy relationship with food is the best way to ensure they grow up without weight and health struggles, which can lead to both psychological and physical illness.

Quotes about weight loss:

“Dear stomach. You are bored, not hungry, so shut up.”

“Do not reward yourself with food. You are not a dog.” 

“If you are tired of starting over, stop giving up.”

“I’m not losing weight. I’m getting rid of it. I have no intention of finding it again.”

“I’m not telling you it’s going to be easy, I’m telling you it’s going to be worth it.”

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Parents: How Worried Should You Be About Enterovirus D68?

I picked my five kids up at their schools today, and the car was unusually quiet. On any other day, they are fighting for my attention, speaking over each other and generally rowdy with pent up energy from sitting in school all day. “It’s too peaceful in here. What’s wrong?” I asked. Each had a mild, physical complaint, from sore throat, to headache to “I’m just really tired today.” The little ones, who go to preschool, have a runny nose and a mild cough. I’ve noticed some of their classmates with the same symptoms.

This is about what you’d expect if we had a benign cold virus making its way through our home. It wouldn’t be the first time we all had a “touch of something”, and I normally am not prone to worry. However, this is the first time they are all under the weather with enterovirus D68 making its way around the country. Here in New Jersey, we are living in the tragic shadow of the death of a four-year old boy from this particularly virulent enterovirus. Eli Waller’s parents put him to bed with symptoms of pink eye, and he passed overnight. It’s a parents’ worst nightmare, and as we pray for the Wallers, we can’t help but put ourselves in their shoes. Can this happen to me? Can it be prevented? What should I know about this virus?

Enteroviruses usually cause run of the mill upper respiratory illnesses or colds. The EV-D68 strain has been diagnosed in over 600 people in the U.S. this year, and is implicated in four deaths to date. Between this and Ebola, you may be thinking of quarantining your family. I can’t blame you. The reports are frightening, especially for parents. The best you can do is to be informed and stay vigilant, but remain calm.

Enteroviruses are spread the same as any cold virus – through saliva and mucous. People become infected when they touch a contaminated surface and bring the virus to their eyes, nose or mouth. Anyone can be infected with EV-D68, but children and those who are immunosuppressed are most likely to have severe symptoms. Kids, because they have not yet built up an immunity to many viruses, the immunosuppressed because they can’t fight off the illness. Because this is a respiratory infection, people with pre-existing respiratory illnesses, such as asthma, are at greater risk of becoming severely ill. There is no specific treatment for EV-D68, and patients are treated with supportive care and on a symptom by symptom basis.

Initial mild symptoms usually include runny nose, sneezing, coughing, body aches and fever. Severe symptoms include wheezing and difficulty breathing.

Bottom line, you don’t need to lie in bed awake at night anxious about EV-D68, but you should be worried enough to do the following:

-       stress to your children how important it is to avoid spreading germs

  • encourage frequent hand washing
  • instruct them to cough and sneeze into their elbow
  • teach them to avoid touching their face, especially around the mouth and nose
  • tell them not to share drinks, lip balm or utensils with other children


-       be vigilant about signs of respiratory distress, especially if your child has asthma or has had breathing problems in the past

  • look for:
    • fever or rash
    • increased rate of breathing
    • increased fatigue
    • use of muscles in the shoulders and chest during breathing
    • wheezing or noisy breathing


-       If you have infants, young children, or children with asthma, be mindful of their contact with individuals who have cold or flu symptoms. Encourage anyone who cares for your child to wash their hands frequently, especially if they are showing some of the early signs of enterovirus infection.

As enteroviruses typically manifest in the spring and fall, we should start to see a decline as we move toward winter. But, before you get too comfortable, flu season is upon us. The above tips are useful not only for EV-D68, but for any contagious viral illness including the flu. The CDC reports more than 100 children died from complications of the influenza virus last year alone. Invest in hand soap and continue to annoy your kids about germ spreading behaviors. An ounce of prevention is truly worth a pound of cure.



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